Reflections of a Duke Parent

Author name
Penny Fleming, Duke Parent

What a long way our son and daughter have come since we dropped them off at the Project BUILD pre-orientation program ten and seven years ago respectively.  Duke provided them with so many wonderful experiences and opportunities and helped them form solid foundations to navigate their ways through real life, jobs, living on their own, and finding their places in the world.  With terrific support from Duke faculty and staff and the incredible resources and people in the Career Center, Bryan and Rachel were gainfully employed upon graduation.  

So what has life been like now that our children are independent, young adults?  How have all of our roles changed?   When do we offer advice?  When do we provide assistance, financial or otherwise?  When asked for?  Unsolicited?  How involved should we be in their lives now?  It is a learning process for all of us and one that is constantly evolving.

If you think you are finished with college applications, think again.  Bryan, who wanted to make a career shift from technology to finance, was pursuing a dual path approach of a full-blown job search and applying to leading MBA programs.  We were back in business again brainstorming ideas for MBA application essays and offering our thoughts and advice as he explored a new and unknown job market.  Rachel likewise came to the realization after her first year of work that her job was not the right fit for her.  After much personal exploration, support from us, and the incredible understanding and flexibility of the management team in her office, Rachel found a new niche with the same company.  The other critical pieces in both of their early professional life changes were the Duke community, the Duke network, and at the forefront the amazing people in the Duke Career Center, who went beyond the call of duty to provide advice and guidance to two Duke alums.

And the roles have reversed.  We are getting advice from Bryan, requested and unsolicited, on where to get good mortgage rates now that he has completed his second real estate purchase, how we should allocate our financial investments as he is busy following the market and managing his holdings, and what changes we should be making to our insurance policies after he met with professionals to acquire and review his coverage.  As I ventured into my second professional life as an adjunct faculty member in Duke’s Sanford Master of Public Policy program I have sought out and relied heavily on Bryan’s and Rachel’s advice about course content, tips on how to teach, and how to interact with graduate students.

One of the biggest changes of all, which I should have expected knowing my kids, is in addition to wanting to pay their way for everything, they want to share their “wealth” with us.  Rachel continues to pull out her wallet to pay for her salad when we stop at a counter service restaurant for a quick bite to eat.  To end the argument I point out that her grandfather pays for all of us when we go out to eat even though our income has been larger for many years.  It is just something parents want to do.  So to get around this, when she is out shopping she will buy me a cute Duke blue purse or top that she knows I will love and then refuses to let me pay her back – true role reversal.  Many of our vacations are now partially covered by Bryan who generously shares his hotel points and airline miles that he accumulates at a rapid pace.  Although one time he was feeling smug when I asked for some help and he told me I might not be able to afford his hourly bill rate.  I quickly responded that I have five years of Duke tuition on account!

Now here’s a bit of advice from me to all of you who will be venturing into this new phase of your relationship with your child.  As hard as it is, I try to be conscious of my involvement and role in their lives and to be respectful of their independence and need to take ownership of themselves.  When I visit, I am a guest in their home now and need to act accordingly, although Bryan welcomed our assistance and stay in Atlanta at his newly acquired condo to complete some move-in tasks and manage a contractor renovating a powder room while he was traveling for work.  We moved to Durham which is where Rachel stayed after graduating from Duke, so I still see it as her home first and do not want to intrude on her turf or have her feel like I am always around the corner.  I have been pleasantly surprised at how much we still see each other and how often she suggests we get together to do things, despite her very full and busy professional and social life.  We are about to start going to a Zumba class together at her suggestion.  Maybe she was trying to send another message like I need to exercise more? 

Through this ten-year journey, Duke has been an integral part of our lives and will continue to be.  When Bryan and Rachel come back to their Duke home, they will be coming to our new home as well.  We also go on the road with Duke.  At Bryan’s urging our family just recently rendezvoused in Indianapolis for the Final Four and what a great experience that was.  Bryan and Rachel shared the 2010 Championship together in Indianapolis and now we all have that memory to carry with us from 2015. 

I hope you have a similarly positive and rewarding experience when you enter the next phase of your parent child relationship.  To the parents of the class of 2015, congratulations and welcome to the next stage of parenting.